Life – resonating theatre

Dr. phil. Ludwig Hasler, Philosopher, Zollikon, Switzerland

Some time around 1950 Wolfgang Pauli, the prominent physicist, was visiting Niels Bohr, the even more prominent physicist, at his home in Denmark. He noticed a horseshoe hanging over the door. “Professor!” he exclaimed. “You? Surely you don’t believe in that sort of thing? “Of course I don’t believe in it,” replied Bohr. “But I understand it brings you luck whether you believe in it or not.”

Does the same go for bioresonance? For experiencebased alternative medicine in general? Does it work even if you don’t believe in it? Or only if you believe in it? Because you believe in it?

Just like other disciplines, medicine relies on the selfevidence of its doctrines. It can’t turn philosophical with every tricky case, like Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” Otherwise it would never get anything done. Questioning – what is true, what is real? What’s the point of pain – and why me? This questioning is annoying, kid’s stuff. At some point we aren’t children any more, we go to school, we study, we don’t need to think for ourselves any more, we have a knowledge system which thinks for us. In medical matters too. That’s great – and it soon becomes paradoxical: the more we know, the more we have to believe. There has never been so much experience around as there is today. And yet we don’t gain personal experience any more. Others gain it for us. Even an experienced dermatologist personally conducts barely one percent of the experiments on whose results he relies in practice. Acquiring experience is a specialist business, involving a lot of equipment. Scientific even. For medicine this means that an ever increasing amount of research is produced by researchers: by people who never stand at a patient’s bedside, by people who don’t have the faintest idea about the art of medicine. This means the more extensive medical knowledge becomes, the more scientifically experience is acquired. And the more scientifically experience is acquired, the more we need to believe it, even if this jars with our own experience. Too bad for experiencebased alternative medicine. As it often fails to comply with the standards of serious research, no matter what it achieves, it remains a subversive miracle cure. The more success it has, the more suspicion it attracts. Bioresonance as allergy therapy, often the last hope of neurodermatitis sufferers. And officially scorned. When I was teaching at Bern University aged 26, the qualified lecturers called me the “magician”, pejoratively, I had the most students, it couldn’t possibly be respectable.

What is real? What is serious and respectable? Who decides what is real? That is the question. And – isn’t something real when it’s impossible to refute, as far as methods go, substantiated in a double blind trial? Obviously that is real. But really real?

I know a musicologist. He knows everything about music, about its history, theories, interpretation, performance methods. I was at the Lucerne festival with him one Easter: Simon Rattle, Johannes Brahms, the Fourth Symphony. For me it was one of the wonders of the world, it touched my soul, transformed me. I became more aware of transience, more in touch with mortality, more eager to understand heaven. Yet for him it was an object of professional analysis. Joseph Roth’s words occurred to me: “You lose distance. You are so close to things that they no longer involve you.”

What is real about music? The sounds? Or rather what lies between the sounds? What effect the sounds bring about?

A more everyday example? Football. Who wins? The team with the best players? The most expensive? They’re all well trained. What’s decisive is spirit. Competitive spirit. The collective desire to win. Does it exist? Of course it exists. But can it be scientifically determined? Imagine we’re in FC Fulda’s stadium. Where is the spirit? We can’t see anything. In the dressing room? Nothing. A spirit. Drifts wherever it wants. Can’t be weighed, quantified, calculated, checked. And yet it’s what works, it’s what brings about what’s real: winning or losing.

The same with the orchestra. The spirit. What lies between. The MEANING.

Might it be the same with our body? Every doctor discovers again and again that the mechanistic dual world view (here the cause, there the effect) is inadequate. That in practice diagnosis/treatment produces different results in every patient. That healing processes are regulated by forces which remain scientifically suspect because they cannot be judged objectively and cannot generally be subjected to verification procedures. Because the individual aspect, the individual expectation of the patient, cannot be removed from the process. One patient associates chemotherapy with a radiant restorative force which will cure them; another thinks the treatment will poison them and gives everything the doctor undertakes a negative meaning. Living organisms do not operate like machines. They operate individually according to the meanings which they ascribe to a thing, a treatment. We all know, but we just forget too easily, that if we’re in love we can take on the world. The idea that this woman loves me gives my body unexpected powers. The idea that she might turn her back on me can have a fatal effect. It is meaning which produces the effect.

It’s the same with the brain. Brain research: our brain is constantly learning. 100 billion nerve cells cannot calm down. The question is just what is occupying them, what stories, what music. If we only feed them on junk food from the TV and trashy magazines, it doesn’t matter whether these cells are intact. Our minds may still be OK from a biochemical perspective, but without a meaningful story they are atrophied. They need narratives which mean something to them, otherwise they’re like a revolving door. What goes in, comes out. And they don’t achieve anything. So here too, what is real is meaning.

Even particle physics now talks about theories like this. CERN, late 2011: references to the Higgs particle, already nicknamed the “God particle”. Just as God holds together the story of salvation, the Higgs particles are what holds matter together in its innermost core. They are not a new building block in the Lego box of modern particle physics, they are magic particles giving all the known building blocks of the universe their characteristic mass. They don’t do this by making a show of their own mass, by acting up. No, instead they bring all the other elementary particles into play, into the interplay. Higgs particles are experts in communication. Physicists occasionally compare them to a ballroom full of people (= elementary particles) who initially stand around bored and evenly spread out. If a rumour is then spread amongst the crowd, groups suddenly form, keen to find out what is new and to discuss it. Something which in itself is formless, like a rumour, is capable of selectively concentrating real matter (in this case people). Physicists imagine that the Higgs particle has a similar effect on the world of elementary particles.

What holds the world together in its innermost core: rumour. The latest science. Positively poetic. The world, a poem. Life, a novel. Reality, a drama. I don’t have to tell you that I’m (still) talking about experiencebased alternative medicine all the while. What is real? Whatever works. What works? Rumour. Melody. A story. And the reaction to it. To use a word currently in vogue: communication. Life is communication. Paul Watzlawick: “We can’t not communicate.” You can see this clearly in couples: if they are in love, the world is full of messages, sending and receiving runs like clockwork. A few decades later, at breakfast in the 5star hotel, things are not so good, their eyes are lifeless, their bodies forlorn, the world is jaded, although from a purely material viewpoint everything is brighter than it was. Ergo: life is reliant on the wealth of meanings it communicates.

Now there’s talk that it’s not just people, not just animals, not just elementary particles which communicate – the cells of the body do too. Constantly exchange information. They call these “light flashes”. They operate at certain frequencies. Our body with its organs and functions isn’t simply what it is; it lives and that means it moves, it acts and reacts, and if it’s to go well then if possible all the elements that are involved must hear from the others, must know how they are doing, what they are up to, what they are reacting against, etc. which in turn means that the body is reliant on the unimpeded exchange of information between the cells. Just as in the orchestra the individual instruments don’t just need to make a sound, they must also listen to one another, combine as an ensemble, stand out against other sound groups, etc. If communication breaks down, the orchestra is ruined, the music has had it. Cacophony. Transferred to the body, cacophony means illness. And as with the disjointed orchestra, it’s not much use tinkering with individual instruments. The body of sound as a whole has to get back in shape. How do you achieve that? You have to try to get the exchange of communication flowing again.

That is, in a nutshell, the idea of RESONANCE. The explanation is that life is not the sum of facts but more like a spectacular resonating theatre. Far from hocus pocus. More an attempt to conform to the latest scientific world view: if what is real is not continued existence, not facts but rather what moves facts, in other words communication, then any method aiming at the ideal of neutral objectivity falls short. (Disrupted) communication can only be changed by communication. (Disrupted) sound can only be improved by the intervention of sound. Resonance. So the (theoretical) question “what is real?” becomes a practical task: how do we conform to this effect? The short answer: through resonance. Through the art of responding in kind.

Life is resonating theatre. Not just in the case of illness. We’re starting to get the idea. Example: the moon. A chunk of matter on a predictable orbit? Yes. It only becomes real through meaning. What does the moon mean? Depending upon language culture: moon < mens, IndoEuropean, measuring. Or moon < luna, shining. Is whatever runs between real? And the sun: “Were not the eye itself a Sun, / No Sun for it could ever shine; / By nothing Godlike could the heart be won, / Were not the heart itself divine.”

We call it “hermeneutic”. We only understand in the to and fro of an exchange of meanings. Or we only grasp things which we previously had an inkling of. To give it a negative twist: we don’t understand illness if we only stick to shot nerves and particles. We need a story. Music. A mood. Then we can play along, get involved, preferably in the same key. Gegenhalten (counter hold), as the Appenzell yodellers say when about to embark on their wordless yodels.

Empathy? My earliest experience of resonance was when, at 24, I spent three weeks in intensive care after a dreadful operation, befuddled with morphine, looked after round the clock by three nurses. Two showed exemplary empathy. How are you today? Still the same pain? And so on. They took on the role of fellow sufferers and made me really ill because they reduced me to my miserable physical existence. The third, however, came around midday and told me what she’d done since leaving the day before. She drew me out of my inwardlooking misery and let me join in her funfilled healthy life. I called her my “chauffeur to the outside”, taking me back into the world, into a full life.

Is that any good for experiencebased alternative medicine? Empathy alone won’t do it. It highlights what we already are: ill, frustrated, fed up with all our ailments. Is a problem shared a problem halved when it comes to illness? Should I have sighed with my mother as she lay in the old people’s home suffering from dementia? I told her about amusing events from earlier days, quietly sang a Bach cantata. She beamed.

What happened there? Brain researchers call it “resonance” (theory of mirror neurons): making something resound instead of just relating to something. Bringing something to life instead of just empathising. The theory, roughly outlined, is this. Man is never a finished system, isn’t a biochemical machine. More like a mirror of others. Especially as regards emotions. Experiments show that, if our counterpart smiles even imperceptibly, we smile back. If they look moody, then we quickly respond in a grumpy manner. This readiness to mirror the emotional expression of others spontaneously is beyond our control, it’s involuntary and even happens unintentionally. This means that the mood I’m in is transferred to the other person’s feelings when they play, determines their mood, willingness to act, sets emotional and physical changes in motion. Human life – a unique resonating theatre.

So carers, doctors, service staff are incredibly important for patients, often less through what they say and do rather than how they do it. Hopefully it should be a given that they have the necessary technical expertise. Yet what do they do with it? That is the crucial question in practice. My third nurse, she didn’t revive my spirits though her professional actions. She did it as a person with her liveliness, her sensuality, her curiosity for life. The person decides whether the ailing patient remains ill or perks up, in mind and body; whether they creep from the world theatre careworn or draw hope. That nurse didn’t achieve this with feelings of empathy. She brought it about through the allure of her vitality and delight in people. Constant empathising makes patients really ill. But a warm, spirited and cheerful nurse revives the spirits – and, with the spirits, vitality and physical strength.

Life, a resonating theatre. Patients are mysterious beings, controlled by imagination and expectation (attribution of meaning). You’ve all experienced how, on the way to the doctors, you feel noticeably better. How does that happen? The doctor’s magic? I recently read some placebo studies from the MIT. In their words: “It’s not the actual medication, not the treatment itself which produces the effect. What is crucial is the doctor’s conviction, their enthusiasm for the treatment.” For pharma and science, that’s a shock. For lovers of resonance it’s a balsam: the essential element of healing rests in the personal relationship between doctor and patient. For technocrats it’s an anachronism. Can the power of the imagination alleviate pain, cure sickness? Neurobiologists even explain how. So the doctor must strengthen this power. The doctor/patient relationship is a human one, not a scientific one. No matter how much science he knows, as a doctor he must be more than a health professional. So what if he tells me that the treatment works in 53 out of 100 patients? 53 percent confidence is not much at all. I want to get better. For this I need a healer rather than a pedlar with statistics. The healer believes I will get better. This belief takes root in my brain. A pact with irrationality? Why not? It can be extremely sensible to make a pact with irrational forces. As long as it is essentially a pact with the soul: Heraclitus says a man’s soul is unfathomable. How do you give the unfathomable scope?

By becoming attuned to it and helping it find a freer rhythm. For example with music. Have you heard of the project “Rhythm Is It!”? 250 young people are studying Igor Strawinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” (Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic); the youngsters come from various cultural groups, different social backgrounds, a number of “difficult” children. They’d never encountered classical music before. Anyone seeing them dancing together at the end would be amazed at the power of music: how it severs the knots of freedom, how it incites the body to its own rhythm, how it dispels all external control.

Precisely what evidencebased alternative medicine does. Active resonance: the body accepts the rhythm, works with it, assimilates it, works hard – confident that it will be transformed. That it will be healed. Healed? Continually transformed.

The Nobel prize winner and the horseshoe. Works even if you don’t believe in it? Quite possibly. Provided we talk with the body. Not just about it.

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